I’ve always hated Hemingway—as controversial as that sounds to my generation of writers. I thought his women were insipid—I’m afraid of the rain because sometimes I see me dead in it—and he so often wrote of hunting and fishing where I usually read about war and oppression. Most of all, Hemingway is my father’s favorite author.
A Father’s Influence
I was read to as a child by both of my parents and then I learned to read by reading aloud to myself, but it is my father’s voice I hear when I read. Over the years as I’ve impugned Hemingway, my father often responded by quoting Papa’s short, declarative sentences. I hear my father give weight to the proper word. I feel the emotion behind his voice as he imbues the masculine writing with all the feelings boys are taught not to openly express. Perhaps that’s what is really meant by clean prose—a holding back of what is just beneath the surface. I love my father’s voice, but even he could not make me hear the beauty in Catherine’s fear of the rain.
As I learned to become a writer, I was surrounded by Papa—starting with the Nick Adams stories and their brilliant setting. Someone wrote an imitation of “The Hills Like White Elephants” and I pretended to get it. My father continued to quote Hemingway. I read and fell for authors like Calvino who themselves loved Hemingway. I loved them for their clean prose—the very thing they were imitating from Hemingway—and I started to see I would have to face Papa someday, but I wanted to do it on my own terms. I worried my father would have to die before I could do that.
Midnight in Paris
When I watched Midnight in Paris, I fell in love with Woody Allen’s Hemingway and with his manner of speech. I wanted to listen all night to his trailing tangents. My father argued that he was merely a caricature, but there was a glimmer of self-awareness in the actor or the portrayal that made me love what I had considered to be cheese.
A Farewell to Arms
How can I describe those opening paragraphs without using the words “there were.” The cadence was there—my father’s and Woody Allen’s and Hemingway’s. The reportage of scenery in simple language. I felt its weight. I brought meaning to his simple, clean sentences. I came to love that style and by page three I was crying at their beauty. I was afraid to turn each page because I didn’t want to lose my awe. I wanted to call my father and read to him, but I also wanted Papa all to myself.
And then came Catherine. And the rain. I know from his letters that Hemingway truly loved the real-life Catherine and maybe he respected her more than I am giving him credit for. I dreaded every mention of the rain. The simple sentences that had carried so much import became cloying with their symbolism. The war sections were still beautiful and strong, and I know from friends that I’m not the only one who loves the war and hates the romance, but I am left deeply divided. He was capable of so much and then it feels like he simply phoned it in.
I know now that I have a lot to learn from Hemingway. I also know that he is not a god. I am not ready to read the complete works and who knows what I will find when I do. I respect my father’s love for Papa. I wish I could devote myself as fully.
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